Welcome to the EU: Everything makes sense in theory, but in practice we’re still a bit lost

The idea of the EU is countries working together to strengthen each other so that people can live more prosperous lives in peace. However, instead, it has been a verbal battle ground to decide who’s in, who’s out, who’s to blame and how can I come out ahead.

Mary MacKenty | mkmackenty@gmail.com

permesso di soggiorno

“Dove sei nata?” (Where were you born?), the police officer asked me during what was hopefully the last step in my month-long battle with Italian bureaucracy to get my permesso di soggiorno (permit of stay). What is a permit of stay you might ask? Well, essentially it is a waste of time, considering by the time it is processed I will be leaving Italy. Why you need both a visa and a permit of stay is beyond me, however looking for logic in Italian bureaucracy is utterly useless. I tell the officer that I’m from Massachusetts, however she wants the exact town. The truth is that I don’t know the answer. I’ve lived in three states in the USA, and spent four of the last five years in six other countries. Which hospital I happened to be born in seems quite irrelevant to me. I decide on Brockton because I can’t remember how to spell Stoughton, even though my gut instinct leans towards the latter. If I’d learned anything this month it’s that no one knows anything about this process or cares too much about the quality of my form filling-out ability, so I doubt anyone will get hung-up on this detail.

I’ve side stepped most of it so far…

After these years of studying and working abroad you’d think I’d be used to being a foreigner and dealing with bureaucratic nonsense. However, I have to admit, I’ve side stepped most of it just by keeping my tourist visa in check. I do my best not to complain considering that I find myself fortunate enough to be studying in Europe however, for the sake of this article, I will sum the process up briefly. Go to the post office and get looked at like you’re crazy when you ask for a registration kit. Spend three weeks gently insisting on getting your rental contract. Go to the police to be scolded in a joking manner that you will be deported. Go to the immigration help office and wait forever to be told it was unnecessary. Then, finally, go to the police station to present myself, where all my documents are accepted without batting an eye. It’s not so much the time that’s wasted; it’s the stress from the uncertainty of your legal status and the lack of comprehension that gets you.

In your own country, you don’t see it.

When you live in your own country, you fail to see the hoops other people are jumping through just to live there. You take the benefits of your legal status for granted. The USA is one the hardest countries to get a visa for, but I don’t see that. I have my magical birth certificate, from a city I can’t remember, which exempts me from needing a visa. Now, with the opening of borders within the EU you are given even more freedom to have international experiences, while skipping over most of the negative aspects of bureaucracy. I wanted to study in Europe because for me it was a great example of culture integration and tolerance. It seemed quite ideal for my lifestyle based on a constant need to live in other cultures.

Cultural inclusivity in the EU…really?

However, what I’ve seen since living in Italy is that the EU is the opposite of cultural inclusivity. The EU has the idealism of cultures working together to strengthen economies and peaceful relationships. What they should say is as long as you being a part of the EU benefits my country it is fine, but as soon as I feel any negative consequences I really wish you’d leave. This is the whole hypocrisy behind the EU. On one side it is promoted as an area of cultural tolerance, but really it was created out of political and economic necessity more than the desire to learn from and live with other cultures. While many enjoy their freedom to travel, do business, study and work abroad; the political elites deal with how to keep their country gaining the most and how to keep unwelcome foreigners from coming into their countries. I have seen the Turkish and Chinese, for example, living as marginalised societies providing people with kebabs and cheap cloths. Having gone through all the ‘unnecessary’ paperwork as a foreigner, I couldn’t imagine the racism and setbacks the immigrants face from not really being accepted here.  That was until my classmate who has the exact same paperwork as me, but happens to be Indonesian, Muslim and wear a veil, got her paperwork rejected for a part “being in English”. If that isn’t blatant racism I don’t know what is.

What is to blame?

Clearly the lack of European identity is in great part to blame. It may be unrealistic to think, but why should we protect the interests of some people just because they were born in our vicinity when we are all in search of the same things in life: love, family, friends, education and work. Where we were born is irrelevant. The idea of the EU is countries working together to strengthen each other so that people can live more prosperous lives in peace. However, instead, it has been a verbal battle ground to decide who’s in, who’s out, who’s to blame and how can I come out ahead. Countries should stop being so nationalistic or they might as well go back to being separate states. At least then there’s no false pretense of cultural inclusion. On the upside they are now fighting with words not swords but are they any closer to real integration at all?

Accept the other consequences integration entails, please?

After spending most of my adult life living abroad, especially in South America, I no longer feel ‘American’, but just another person in the world. This has led me to no longer understand, on an emotional level, nationalist sentiment. However, unfortunately, lines have been drawn on the globe dividing us into nations, so I need to accept that there are consequences to living abroad. If you believe in the positive aspects of a course of action then you need to find a way to overcome the obstacles associated with it. I am not a ‘Eurosceptic’, however I do believe that people’s nationalistic prejudices need to decrease in order for the EU to succeed on the social level. I would think it wise for Europeans to put things into perspective and realise that, even with this crisis, they are still ahead of most of the world. If they want to enjoy the benefits of the EU, then they should accept the other consequences integration entails. An increase in social integration would hopefully get states to genuinely work together, not just when it’s beneficial to them.

maryMary MacKenty, Contributing writer

Mary has a BA in Arts and Sciences, concentrated in Latin American Studies, from Syracuse University in the US. She is currently studying MA Euroculture at the University of Udine and uses every free moment to travel. Her interests lie in improving the quality of international education and expanding it to countries with fewer opportunities. She loves the beach, drinking mate, sports and being free to roam the world.

A Luxury: Lack of Borders

Heather Southwood | southwood28@gmail.com

“From somewhere different?”
“Like Europe?”
“No, not like Europe”*

*War of the Worlds

Maybe it’s all psychological or maybe it’s just that America is so much bigger but, for some reason, in the run up to my trip, it seemed like a huge undertaking. There was so much to do, so much paperwork for the visa, so many forms to fill in for the university and so many hours to sit on a plane. It did not help that each time I spoke about my trip, someone had some horror story about the journey there: going through customs, immigration, or just the flight itself, everyone had a story to share and advice to impart. If you Googled transferring flights at my connecting airport, forums were filled with horror stories and complaints.

Yet, when I stepped off my plane, immigration was rather easy – I was greeted with a smile, not the surly face I had been promised. Customs was just the handing over of a paper card filled in on the flight and, at security, the security guard complimented my boots. In fact, since landing in America until arriving at my apartment, six different airport employees complimented my boots! So, even though I had heard all these stories about getting in to America, it was actually very easy and really friendly. Yet, I definitely breathed a sigh of relief once I had got that bit out of the way and I could continue on my way.

“Borders” is a word we hear a lot in Europe; having no borders, the Schengen agreement and of course from reading Balibar. I wonder if ‘Fortress Europe’ to those non-Europeans is almost like my psychological experience of entering America. Of course, as a European those borders to me either do not exist or are pretty easy: there are no visas, interviews, paperwork, forms with different numbers, handing over of financial evidence, or health insurance. Just the wave of a passport, some security procedures and knowing your final destination is all you need (and from experience, even if you get the destination wrong, they still let you through!). Of course, once you enter Schengen countries you can travel country to country without even those questions. I remember the first time I travelled to Germany: I was amazed by trains going to Amsterdam or Geneva, but maybe that was just a British thing.

Borders, or the lack of borders, I think may be a luxury that we Europeans may take for granted, whether they are physical or just physiological. An American girl, in the run up to my travels here as I envied her ability to walk straight in said, I wish I had your passport”. My friend with dual nationality would never give up her European passport, it’s too valuable. The European passport: it’s like the golden ticket for travelling.

Heather Southwood, Copy Editor

Heather is from Manchester, UK, and completed her undergraduate in Law before studying Euroculture in the University of Göttingenand Jagiellonian University, Krakow. She is currently completing a research track in Indianapolis. Her research interests include citizenship and the promotion of belonging in citizens. She also attempts to discover a new national dish she can cook every time she goes somewhere new.